There is a whole series of psychological exams that students at our seminaries have to undertake. These exams dig deep into our family history, our personality characteristics and our sense of call to become a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
When I went through this process, I had to go to a counseling center in New Brighton, where I spent a couple of days, sitting in a room by myself, filling in little squares on standardized tests, answering questions, being interviewed and writing essays.
Six weeks later I returned to the counseling center and spent time with one of their staff, going through the results. It was actually, a really interesting session. I learned quite a bit about myself.
Part of my conversation went something like this: The counselor said “So Todd, your Myers Briggs Test indicates that you’re an I-N-F-P (for those of you who don’t speak psychologist, that means introverted, intuitive, feeling oriented and perceptive.) “Yes, that sounds about right.” (Introverts of the world unite! In our own, separate rooms, of course.)
The counselor went on: “And it says that your thinking process is ‘abstract and random.’” “Well yes, my wife would say so.”
“Hmmm…and according to this test, you are almost an off the chart reflective; you like it when you have time to think and process. If you’re forced into quick decisions, it can cause you some anxiety.”
And I asked: “What does that mean?” “Well, you put this all together, and it means that when someone asks you what you want for dinner, you’re incapable of an answer other than “I don’t know, what do you want?” and this probably drives your wife crazy.” Yes! That’s it!
Now to be clear, I can make decisions. But I work best when I have time to think and process all my options. It’s just how I’m wired.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always been so fascinated by this particular Gospel text. What those four disciples did is a totally foreign concept to me.
So, two brothers, Simon and Andrew, are sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, prepping for another day’s fishing. Some stranger walks past them, stops, turns and faces them and says “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” and the brothers? They just get up, drop their stuff and go!
No pause, to stop and think? No reflecting? No weighing the pros and cons? No references or background check? No phoning a friend for advice? Nothing like that? They just got up and went? How is that even possible? I can’t conceive of this!
And then Jesus moves on, encounters the two more brothers, James and John, also fishermen, and they did the same thing.
Something was obviously so persuasive…so compelling about Jesus that these men would hear Jesus call, get up, with only the clothes on their backs, and follow.
Now there is a pretty simple and apparent lesson that we can draw from this story. Jesus called these disciples and they just got up and followed. So, we should too. Right? I mean that kind of makes sense. Ok. Got it…so let’s finish up and head home to get ready for the game.
Ok…maybe not. Maybe it’s not quite that simple. Let’s think about the implications: These four guys…they gave up everything. They walked away. They left family, friends, jobs, security, money, food, clothing…everything. Is that really what Jesus is calling us to do? Because if so, suddenly this whole “Follow Jesus” thing just got a lot more complicated, and frankly God… we’re going to have to do some serious negotiating here.
Most of us, truth be told, would find it very hard to leave work and family and friends and all the rest to venture into such an uncertain future. Does that mean we’re failures as Christians? Or that we are less faithful than Andrew and Peter, James and John? No, I don’t think so.
There are two questions that this text raises for us. An easy one, and a complicated one. First the easy one: Is this story offered up to us as an example of how we are supposed to live? Of how we are supposed to answer God’s call? This is an easy question. The answer is yes. We are supposed to follow.
But the second question is more complicated and more intriguing. It is this: What kind of example is intended in this story?
I have a sense that Mark never imagined all of his readers following Jesus in quite the same way that these four disciples did. But yet I think he intended the example of these four disciples to inspire us towards something.
We each follow Jesus in particular and distinct ways that may or may not be like the first disciples. And that, I think, is the point.
- Perhaps we follow Jesus by becoming a teacher.
- Perhaps we follow by volunteering at the senior center.
- Perhaps we follow by looking out for those in our schools who always seem on the outside and invite them in.
- Perhaps we follow by doing a job we love as best we can to help others.
- Perhaps we follow by doing a job we hate but contributes to supporting our family and helping others.
- Perhaps we follow by being generous with our wealth and with our time.
- Perhaps we follow by listening to those around us and responding with encouragement and care.
- Perhaps we follow by preparing a meal.
- Perhaps we follow by caring for an aging parent, or a child with some special needs, or someone else who needs our care.
- Perhaps we follow by….
Well, you get the idea. There are any number of ways that we can follow Jesus. And, indeed, follow him immediately; in the here and now, in the world and time in which we live. Jesus’ actions teach us that we can follow him in all of these different situations and circumstances by trying to imitate him; by trying, that is, to treat others with the same regard, love and patience that he did, including all manner of people but especially those who were overlooked by society.
This, I think, is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian: to try to live and treat others as Jesus did, embracing the values of inclusiveness, love, forgiveness, and healing that he radiated in word and deed.
Rev. Will Campbell was a Baptist pastor, a civil rights activist and award winning author, who lived in Mississippi in the 1960’s and 70’s. Campbell’s prophetic ministry earned him death threats and opposition as well as helping others gain insight into what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus.
As a Baptist, Pastor Will was familiar with the practice of the altar call. You may be familiar with these moments in a worship service. It’s common in fundamentalist, or Pentecostal worship services. After a fiery sermon, the pastor asks if anyone is ready to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. People are invited to indicate a response to Christ by walking to the front of the church and being prayed for.
The Rev. Will Campbell had a slightly different take on this. One Sunday, after he finished a particularly moving and powerful sermon, he started to make the invitation. And before he could complete it, a larger than average group of people, perhaps a dozen, stood up and began walking towards the front. But Pastor Campbell threw up his hands and started yelling at them: “No no no! Don’t come down the aisle! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus! Go out there! Go out into the world…find the poor and the hungry! Find Jesus out there! And serve them!’”
“When they heard this, the people who were coming down the aisle stopped in their tracks, spun around and exited the church to get in their cars and drive away, presumably to go do just what he told them. Pastor Campbell then looked around at the rest of the congregation, the ones sitting there kind of shocked and wide-eyed; and he yelled at them: ‘Why are you hanging around here? Why don’t you go to Jesus too? Why don’t you all go to Jesus? Go on! Get out! Shoo! Go serve!’ The people rose up as one, and quickly left the church, and soon the parking lot was empty.”
What a fantastic way to end a worship! (We really should give that a try sometime!) I have this vision of every member of the church scurrying out of worship and going out to the food shelves looking for the hungry, the shelters looking for the homeless and the care centers looking for the lonely. This is what Jesus calls us to.
It is not a call to come forward. Jesus doesn’t give us an altar call; he gives us a call that alters. The call of Christ changes us. It draws us alongside him and because of his great love it transforms us into disciples. Jesus calls us…and he calls us immediately…right here, and right now.
And Jesus’ call sends us. It sends us out into a broken world, to stand up for those in need, or hurting, or cut off from their community. It sends us to feed the hungry, care for the poor and comfort the grieving. It calls us to stand up against those who promote hate, and to respond not with anger, but with love.
Jesus calls us to be like him; to love like him; to serve like him; to care like him. And this is a call we receive every day. And he promises to send his Spirit with us. We do not go alone.
My friends, you don’t get to choose whether or not God loves you. He does, and nothing can change that. But you do get to choose what you do with that love.
So, what is your personality type? Are you decisive? Indecisive? Are you introverted or extraverted? Are you impulsive, or are you reflective?
Whoever you are, whatever your personality, just like those four disciples, Jesus calls you today. Immediately. Right now.
So, here’s the call: today, you can wait until after the closing hymn. I’m not going to rush you. But then go! Go to Jesus! Go out there! Go out into the world…shoo! Find the poor and the hungry! Find Jesus out there! And find those he loves…and serve them!’”
Hear Jesus’ call; and follow.